Kuniko Notani
bag craftsman

Pochette using piece stitching



Thoughts and skills passed down from the founder of Yoshida Kaban

Kuniko Notani, a leather hand-sewing artisan and bag designer, is the second daughter of Yoshida Kichizo, the founder of one of Japan's leading bag manufacturers, Yoshida Kaban. Her passion for technology, born from her career as a hat designer, continues to be the driving force behind her earnest craftsmanship.

Currently, in order to spread the charm of handmade leather craft, she also holds a school at her atelier in Imado, Taito-ku, Tokyo, and teaches the technique as an instructor herself. He also gives hand-sewing demonstrations at the Porter Omotesando workshop on an irregular basis, and is working with the wish left by Mr. Yoshida before his death, "to spread the wonder and joy of leather hand-sewing to as many people as possible.

We visited Ms. Notani's atelier in Okuasakusa to hear about the fun and difficulty of hand-sewing and her thoughts on her activities. In the latter half of the interview, we will learn how to make a pochette using the "koma-awase stitch," a technique indispensable for making a three-dimensional bag like a trunk.

interview (i.e. television, newspaper, etc.)

Piece-joining stitches" indispensable for making three-dimensional bags

I wanted to learn bag making from my father.

I understand that you were originally a hat designer as well, but what made you decide to pursue leather craft?

Hats are one of the most glamorous items in fashion, and I really wanted to make hats. Thanks to that, I was able to work as a hat designer for weddings, advertisements, and other wonderful jobs. Since that time, I have always wanted to design and make bags along with hats. After settling down to raise my children and resuming my career, I talked to my father about it, and he invited me to participate in a bag-making training program. He asked me if I wanted to participate in a training course on bag making, and when he said, "I will teach you after the training," I felt like he gave me a push. I could handle hats by myself, but I wanted to learn bag making from my father and leave my skills behind. The pochette I have shown you how to make this time is the same shape as the one I remember my father making for me when my first son was born. It was also the pochette of this shape that my father taught me when he first taught me how to sew piece together. It is a bag that holds a special place in my heart.

Some things are not taught, but transmitted.

What did the bag-making process teach you? What were some of the most impressive things you learned?

I was able to spend a lot of time with my father by having him teach me how to make bags. He would tell me, "This is an important part, so watch carefully," so it was more like learning by watching than by being taught. Rather than giving me detailed instructions on this and that, he would take my work and think with me about how to make it better. It was a blessing to be able to experience up close how he felt about his work, such as his thoughts and attitude toward bag making. I remember that he always wore a proper tie when sewing bags. My father not only taught me, but also listened to me. I was impressed by his interest in many things, such as what I had learned at dressmaking school and what our generation was interested in. He told me stories about being a POW in the war, the art of tanning leather, and many other things besides his work.

Technology that can make anything with two needles

What is it about Kichizo's technique that you find so amazing when you see it up close?

It is also available in the Yoshida Kichizo Memorial Museum on the ground floor of the atelier, and I was amazed at the skill with which the trunks are hand-sewn. The leather has a beautiful expression, and the trunks have an air of elegance that makes them suitable for storing and traveling with one's precious belongings. The stitches are even and the beauty of the trunk is truly "one of a kind. It was truly amazing to think that he had created not only a two-dimensional shape, but also a three-dimensional, sturdy trunk with just two stitches. At that time, my father used a technique called "piece stitching," which I am going to teach you this time. I still sew coin cases at the "Porter Omotesando" workshop, and many elements of bag making are packed into a small coin case. Of course, I use piece stitching, but it is difficult no matter how many pieces of the same item I continue to make. Even a small item is very difficult to make, so I realized once again how amazing my father's work is. And since he was able to do it so casually, I think he was a great craftsman as well.

Tools that are completed when people use them

You are now teaching students at the school. What is important in making hand-sewn leather goods?

Hats and bags are tools that are closely related to the human body. Since they are gradually adapted to the person who owns them, I do not think that the finished product is the goal. It can be said that a tool is completed only when it is used. To put it in an extreme way, we say that the minimum function of a bag is that "what you put inside does not fall out. To achieve this, I think the most important thing is "basic skills. The world is progressing rapidly in order to realize our imagination of "what we want to make. New ideas and technologies will continue to emerge in the future, but if we trace back to the source, we can still reach the basic technology. Even though I have taught the same things over and over again, I often find that I still discover new things. As students' skills improve, they tend to seek simple designs using high quality leather, and they may naturally learn what it means to be "sophisticated" through making things.

I hope you know what a good thing it is.

I hear that more and more people are making things with the Corona Disaster. Do you have any advice?

I think it is very important to feel the quality of tools and materials when making things. Especially nowadays, the number of craftsmen who can make good tools is decreasing. I use my father's "Meuchi" while maintaining it, but the number of craftsmen who maintain such tools is also decreasing. If we don't ask them to do the work, the wonderful techniques and culture will probably cease to exist. As for leather materials, I would like people to know what good leather is and what makes it different. Good leather costs a certain amount of money, but you can understand why it costs so much by trying it out. It is a good learning experience to try different kinds of products and see the differences. Since you make things with your hands, I want you to cherish the pleasure of using good tools and touching good leather. And I want them to be able to make good things. If you learn the basic skills while carefully making each item, you will surely become good at it. I would be happy if the enjoyment of leather crafting spreads and the culture remains. I would like to continue to enjoy making bags while challenging myself with new designs and techniques.


インタビュー:Kentaro Iida
写真:Tara Kawano


How to make Pochette using piece stitching

Download pattern paper [A3 size].

Please print on A3 paper without scaling.


Cut the leather according to the pattern.


Using a cotton cloth, carefully rub "Toconol" into the toco (back side of the leather) side and the edge (cut end of the leather).



Paste together parts A-1 and A-2 of the piece that will become the gusset. Apply Cybinol 100 (bond) to the toko surface, and with A-1 on the outside, align them at the center, curving them slightly while firmly pasting them together. Remove the overhang of the two pasted parts.Leather knife.Cut off by such as,sandingand polish.


Referring to the pattern, draw a twist (line) on each part using a tool for drawing a sewing line such as "Nejitsugo".



Mark the sticking position on the pattern paper, roughen it with a file, and stick each part (D to G).


Using the "rhombus hammer", make stitch holes in all the parts (A~G) minus the nens. The gusset part (part A), which is used for "piece matching", is not pierced through, but stopped and pulled out when it is pierced a little deeper than halfway. Use a double-stitch for the curved part.



Sew parts D to G using“Flat stitch”.


After parts D to G are sewn, it is time to "match the pieces". Bond the coma to the body (B and C). As shown in the photo, use cybinol to attach both sides of part A so that parts B and C are clipped together.



Align the two thread lengths and begin sewing firmly. Use the "Hishikiri" to make a path for the needle to go through. Use the "Maru-Kiri" to make a path for the thread where the other thread goes through, and sew while making a hole.

Watch the video of piece stitching



As you sew along the curve, the needle holes will shift and become slanted. If the misalignment becomes too severe, the needle of the needle that has moved forward should be threaded through the same hole again to correct the misalignment.


After sewing all the way to the end, sew back 3 stitches and bond the thread.

Watch the video of thread clamping



Finally, attach the "dowel" to fasten the strap or shoulder belt, fold the flap, and you are done!

Download pattern paper [A3 size].

Please print on A3 paper without scaling.

Author Profile

Kuniko Notani

Born in Kanda, Tokyo in 1942. After working as a hat designer and creator, he learned the know-how of hand-sewn bag making from his father, the founder of a long-established bag manufacturer, and started his career as a bag craftsman. In March 2011, he opened a basic course for beginners at his atelier in Asakusa.